St. John Church in Lansford officially becomes part of the Bismarck Diocese

by Sonia Mullally - Dakota Catholic Action

Bishops Folda (center) left and Kagen (center right) co-celebrate Mass at St. John’s Church in Lansford to celebrate the transfer of the parish from the Fargo Diocese to the Bismarck Diocese. (Dakota Catholic Action)

It began with what you might call a “gentlemen’s agreement” and is now official. The St. John Parish in Lansford is part of the Diocese of Bismarck—altering the diocesan borders for the first time since it was established over 100 years ago.

In 1949, the pastor of St. Andrew’s Church in Westhope (in the Fargo Diocese) informed his superior, Bishop Leo Dworshak, that he had celebrated his last Mass at St. John in Lansford. He was aging and the travel was just too much, especially during the long North Dakota winters. Bishop Dworshak then contacted Bismarck Diocese’s Bishop Vincent Ryan to ask for his assistance. The pair agreed that Bismarck Diocese priests would take over providing for the pastoral and sacramental needs of the parishioners of St. John in Lansford. Nothing more official than a simple agreement.

Over the years, little was thought of this arrangement; it’s just how things were done. At the time, Monsignor John Hogan, at St. Leo’s Church in Minot, was tasked with finding priests to cover the small town about 30 miles north of Minot. For more than 60 years, priests from Minot and the surrounding areas made sure that Mass and the sacraments were celebrated in Lansford. More recently, the parish has been covered by the priest in residence at St. Jerome in Mohall (currently Father Adam Maus) and is part of a cluster with St. James in Sherwood.

Reevaluating the arrangement

In 2012, during Bishop Kagan’s time as the apostolic administrator of the Fargo Diocese in the interim period between bishops, he began to take a closer look at the situation in Lansford. He mentioned it to the new Bishop John Folda in 2013. A few years later, a more formal conversation began and got the ball rolling to make St. John an official parish of the Diocese of Bismarck.

The process took about 18 months before paperwork was submitted last year to the Holy See in Rome. It’s here that the Congregation for Bishops officially and canonically placed St. John of Lansford, by approving the request of Bishops Kagan and Folda, within the boundary and care of the Bismarck Diocese.

Bishop Kagan and Bishop Folda celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. John Church on Aug. 19 to mark the change and celebrate with the parishioners.

In truth, not much changes for the parishioners of St. John. As usual, they will see Father Adam Maus at the altar each week. Many of them possibly didn’t even realize that they were a Fargo Diocese parish being served by their neighboring diocese. Now, the gentlemen’s agreement between two bishops is official in the eyes of Rome.

History of St. John in Lansford

Before St. John’s Church in Lansford was built, missionary priests tended to the needs of the Catholic families. Lansford became a station in 1902 with Masses held in homes. The church was built in the summer of 1906 at a cost of approximately $5,000. It had a seating capacity of 125 and was dedicated on Sept. 20, 1907. At that time, there were about 100 members. Father C. M. Turcotte was the first pastor.

In 1914, the church was almost destroyed by lightning and had to be remodeled. A new church was built in 1963 at a cost of $65,000 and was dedicated on July 11, 1964, by Bishop Leo Dworshak of Fargo. Father Edwin Volk was pastor at that time and membership consisted of 50 families.